|MANILA — Muslims in dominantly-Catholic Philippines are striving to dispel fears that madrasahs (religious schools) are condoning violence.”We’re challenging that mind-set,” Mamaros Boransing, a Muslim educator and an undersecretary at the Education Department, told Reuters on Wednesday, March 21.”We’re reforming our own madrasah system to promote a culture of peace and national unity.”
There are an estimated 2,000 madrasahs in the Philippines, more than half in the southern island of Mindanao according to Reuters.
Only 40% of these madrasahs are accredited by the Department of Education.
“Only eight percent of these madrasahs are under the control of the government,” said Ricardo Blancaflor, defense undersecretary and former director of an anti-terrorism task force.
“We don’t want our madrasahs to become factories for terrorists.”
Muslims make up 5% of the country’s 87 million population.
The mineral-rich southern region of Mindanao, Islam’s birthplace in the Philippines, is home to 5 million Muslims.
Islam reached the poor Southeast Asian state in the 13th century, about 200 years before Christianity .
Boransing said the madrasah system is trying to strike the right balance and help promote a culture of tolerance.
“We’ve just planted the seed of tolerance and understanding,” the Muslim educator pointed out.
“We don’t really want our Muslim children to become virtual strangers in their own country, but, at the same time, we don’t want them to grow ignorant of their culture and religion.”
The Education Department has introduced in 2005 a new curriculum offering Arabic and Islamic studies to state schools in Muslim-dominated areas outside Mindanao.
In the capital Manila, the government has started test runs for the new madrasah system in 37 state-run primary and secondary schools, where a majority of the pupils are Muslims.
“In the beginning, it was difficult to learn Arabic,” said Hamid Abdul, a 10-year-old beginner at Geronimo Santiago Elementary School near the presidential palace complex.
“I have to learn it to be able to read the Qur’an.”
About 70 percent of 1,000 pupils at Hamid’s school are Muslims and most of them have been attending weekend classes on Arabic and Islamic values.
“We’re teaching only the basic to help them understand the language of the Qur’an,” said one of 2,000 Muslim teachers trained by the Education Department.
“Under our constitution, state schools are not allowed to teach religion.”